The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation has opened a preliminary evaluation (PE) into 580,000 Tesla cars sold in the U.S. since 2017 over the 'Passenger Play' feature, Reuters reported. The feature allows games to be played on the touchscreen next to the driver, even when the car is in motion.
According to the details shared by the NHTSA, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has received one Vehicle Owner Questionnaire (VOQ) against this feature. A VOQ allows car owners to file a complaint with the safety regulator against the vehicle or any other car equipment that might be a safety defect.
Summarizing the problem, the ODI said that Passenger-Play equipped vehicles allow games to be played on the front center touchscreen even while the car is in motion may present a distraction to the driver and increase the risk of a crash. The feature has been available since December 2020, when Musk also launched three new in-car games. Prior to this update, the gameplay was only allowed when the vehicle was stationary.
Reuters reported that the complaint was filed by a Tesla 3 owner from Oregon, who called the feature a reckless negligence, creating a dangerous distraction for the driver. Earlier this month, New York Times had also published a report about this feature and questioned if Tesla was compromising safety in its rush to add new features. The news is quite in contrast to Elon Musk's claims that no CEO cared about safety as much as him.
According to guidelines released by the NHTSA in 2013, in-vehicle devices need to be designed in a way that prevents drivers from performing distracting secondary tasks while driving. Although Tesla's games carry warnings that they are meant only for passengers, Reuters reported that a driver could play them by merely pressing a button.
The Preliminary evaluation is the first step in NHTSA's investigation before it decides if an engineering analysis is necessary. If the issue is termed an engineering defect, the agency can demand a recall, Reuters reported. In November this year, the NHTSA also recalled 227 Daimler vehicles over concerns that their infotainment systems were distractions for drivers.
However, in Tesla's case, an over-the-air update could fix the problem.